They are not amazons - they are amazing

Janet's World

April 13, 2008|By Janet Gilbert

If you look up the word "virago," you'll find two definitions. This is not uncommon when it comes to English, one of the most complex and rich languages in the world.

Curiously, though, the definitions seem to be polar opposites. The first definition - let's call it "Definition A" - says a virago is a loud, scolding, domineering woman; a "shrew."

The second definition, which we will refer to as "Definition B" or "the right one," describes a virago as "a woman of strength or spirit."

And while we're on the subject of Hillary Clinton, can we please set something straight, regardless of your politics?

Of all my memories of the headlines and discoveries more than a decade ago when the Lewinsky scandal broke, it is something oddly personal that stands out. I recall a few weeks of grabbing the daily paper, reading it, and then recycling the section that contained the lurid hearings transcripts before my avid newspaper-reading children came home from school.

I'll bet Hillary tried to do the same thing, to protect her daughter, in what I view now as the tangible beginning of the "too-much-information generation." The Lewinsky scandal broke on a little known Web site, after all.

And so it infuriated me when I heard people saying things of this nature: "She just has so much ambition, she's willing to stand by him no matter what he does. She loves the power." These folks clearly chose virago Definition A for Hillary, viewing her as an emasculating shrew with boundless ambition.

But - and I admit this is probably an oversimplification and that I know nothing about the inner workings of politics and power - what would these Americans have had Hillary Clinton do at that personal apex of pain? Leave her spouse in a righteous fit of deserved indignation, and let her child feel a devastating loss of faith in both parents? I have absolutely nothing to base this on, but I feel certain that the virago I saw in Hillary Clinton those many years ago was the same virago I saw in Silda Spitzer at that awful, uncomfortable news conference a few weeks ago.

Silda's appearance was not, in my opinion, a show of solidarity with her husband. It was a show of strength for her children. That's definitely more in keeping with the second definition of virago.

But I guess it comes down to your essential perception of women. I happen to believe language not only reflects but shapes our cultural beliefs. That's why there are two viragos, and perhaps even why the first, preferred definition is the unfavorable one.

It's also why the important and timely Janet's World Institution for the Reversal of the Order of the Definitions for Virago Society has come to be formed, with the writing of this column.

The Janet's World Institution for the Reversal of the Order of the Definitions for Virago Society, or JWIRODVS, as it is breezily known, simply asks us to stop labeling strong women as unfeminine.

Because I know a lot of viragos in my life. Women who are captains of industry, and women who are captains of family. And, by the way, these roles are not mutually exclusive.

I - and I'm sure you - know a few women-warriors who are putting one foot in front of the other as they move through treatments for everything from cancer to depression. Women who are leading businesses, boards and charities. Women who are unexpectedly yet graciously raising their grandchildren. Women who are working more than one job to make ends meet. Women who are doing the "math facts" with their second-grader for the required 15 minutes per day. Women who are stepping in to care for elderly parents.

So identify your viragoes, and send them a note of gratitude for their show of strength.

Thanks to the JWIRODVS, they'll know which virago you mean.

Contact Janet at janet@janetgilbert.net

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